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Vasily Filippov

Doctor of Historical Sciences, Leading Researcher at the Institute of Africa of the Russian Academy of Sciences

The colonial system in its classical form only quite recently collapsed – just a century ago. Unfortunately, this short period of time has failed to make the Dark Continent either happier or more prosperous. Today, a second advent of colonialism is becoming more and more apparent. Why is this the case? Why have young African states failed to become immune to neo-colonialism?

The colonial system in its classical form only quite recently collapsed – just a century ago. Unfortunately, this short period of time has failed to make the Dark Continent either happier or more prosperous. Today, a second advent of colonialism is becoming more and more apparent. Why is this the case? Why have young African states failed to become immune to neo-colonialism?

Wars over Resources

The postmodern transformation of the international legal system became inevitable once the world was covered by a threatening shadow of global economic crisis. Cataclysms in the US economy, the threat of the collapse of the Euro zone, the dynamic growth of the Chinese and Indian economies – all this has happened against the backdrop of rapidly growing consumption of nonrenewable natural resources on the one hand, and considerable growth of the world population on the other.

The Dark Continent has the largest world deposits of manganese, chromium, bauxites, gold, platinum, cobalt, vanadium, diamonds, phosphorus, fluorite; the second largest deposits of copper, asbestos, uranium, antimony, beryllium, graphite; and the third – in oil, gas, mercury and iron deposits. Deposits of titanium, nickel, bismuth, lithium, tantalum, niobium, tin and tungsten ores, as well as precious stones are also immense [1]. Africa is also renowned for its large deposits of diamonds (RSA and Zimbabwe) and gold (RSA, Ghana, Mali and Republic of Congo). Vast oil deposits are to be found in Nigeria and Algeria. Bauxites are extracted in Guinea and Ghana. Phosphorite resources as well as manganese, iron, lead and zinc ores are concentrated along the northern seaboards of Africa.

There is little doubt that competition over rights of access to the natural resources of African countries will provoke bitter conflicts among a variety of players around the world: European countries who have kept tangible influence in their former colonies, the United States, possibly Japan, and the new economic centers – China, India, and Russia, which is only slowly restoring its lost foothold in Africa. Moreover, the appearance of new contenders in the fight over African natural resource wealth should not be ruled out.


The disintegration of colonial empires and the declaration of independence of African countries did not at all signify the end of exploitation, both by former metropole countries and by other economically developed states. Classical colonialism based on military coercion and implying the incorporation of colonially developed territories into the political system of a mother country has now given way to neo-colonialism. The latter concept emerges as a form of obscured exploitation of developing countries (not based on direct compulsion or denial of state sovereignty) by economically developed powers. This is reflected through a special system of discriminatory economic and political relations imposed by the leading world players onto developing African countries.

In the 20th century, neo-colonialism, as a special form of the expansion of developed countries into Africa, incorporated a whole arsenal of specific instruments of political and economic manipulation. Examples include a cultivation of a culture of corruption and the direct bribery of African political elites, the fomentation and exploitation of tribal conflicts in order to bring to power convenient political leaders, the unrestrained arms supply to political protégés, a system of enslaving financial credits, the use of the so-called humanitarian aid as an instrument of manipulation, and the use of armed force allegedly for peace-keeping purposes.

However, the essence and core of neo-colonialism has been the exploitation of African natural resources. The continent has always been especially attractive to transnational corporations as a source of raw materials sold at rock bottom prices. Such give-away prices were established because of two factors: the venality of African political elites who are focused primarily on personal wealth instead of national interests and the exceptional cheap cost of labor in countries suffering from extreme poverty.

The disintegration of colonial empires and the declaration of independence of African countries did not at all signify the end.

Nearly a half billion mobile phones are sold annually across world markets, and each unit contains columbite tantalite extracted from сoltan ore, 80% of world deposits of which are located in the Congo. For half a century, war has raged this country, commonly known as the “world сoltan war”. According to different reports, just in the last decade, from six to ten million people have lost their lives. Congolese prospectors extract the ore with their bare hands and sell it for a song to middlemen. In turn, they join forces and lease Ukrainian and Russian aircraft to carry green ore to neighboring countries, mainly Rwanda. The cargo is then forwarded to Europe through Ostende airport in Belgium by companies owned by the families of the Rwandan or Ugandan Presidents. The return flights to the Congo carry arms, while the coltan ore freight is delivered to processing plants by offshore companies. There are a few such plants - Cobatt (USA), H.C. Starck (Germany), Ningxia (China) and ore-dressing enterprise of Ust-Kamenogorsk (Kazakhstan) – whose owners, in fact, are major sponsors of the war in the Congo.

From 1965 to 1997, the Congo was ruled by the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga, translated as “the all-powerful warrior who, because of his endurance and inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”. By the end of his life, his fortune was worth more than five billion US dollars. More than once did the poverty-ridden nation try to rebel against the cruel dictator, but in 1977 military assistance arrived from France, and when later in 1978 the government forces were all but defeated, he was granted military assistance from Belgium, France and China.

Apart from the economic aspect, neo-colonialism also has a pronounced political component. Here we are talking about control over the governments of allegedly sovereign African states and securing military presence in strategically sensitive areas.

An illustrative example is France Afrique, a fuzzy multitude of political, economic and military forces amalgamated into lobbying networks. This military and political structure was established during the rule of President Charles de Gaulle by Senator Jaques Foccart, who later served as an Advisor on African Affairs to President Georges Pompidou for many years. According to V. Ouattara, an Ivorian political scientist, “Mister Africa” was on hand during coups d’etat in Gabon, Togo, Cameroon, Congo, Burkina Faso, and Chad. Foccart was also a comrade-in-arms and advisor to Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, notorious for outrageous corruption, the public executions of political opponents, and the extermination and banishment of the Tutsi, refugees seeking asylum in the Congo during the Rwandan genocide. The French military presence has been inseparable from the system of France Afrique. Agreements with puppet regimes on defense issues have facilitated control over the armed forces of allegedly sovereign countries and have helped to establish French military bases in Cote d’Ivoire, Gabon, Chad and Senegal.

An example of a country taking advantage of tribal conflicts to further its own interests through the participation of a peace-keeping force can be found in recent developments in Cote d’Ivoire. Up to now, some 600 French enterprises fully control the raw materials base of this former French colony. Through their hub in Cote d’Ivoire, France exercises control over the entire region; Burkina Faso, Togo, Guinea and, to a certain extent, Senegal all remain under strong French influence. As soon as Ivoirian President L. Gbagbo put up resistance (once he had been also brought to power by the French military), France immediately interfered in the internal conflict between the Muslim north and Christian south and by force of strength brought to power A. Ouattara, a rebel leader who would have never run for the presidency without French assistance.

The response of African political elites to these developments has been remarkable. Immediately upon the arrest of Gbagba by French special forces, a group of Cameroonian politicians drafted an Internet statement claiming that Cote d’Ivoire was on the threshold of another colonial war: “the country is facing a tragedy masterminded by Nicolas Sarkozy and the so-called world community. This is a truly criminal offence and implementation of a long-standing plan of the new colonization of Africa. Once again, they need our fine wood, our coffee, our cocoa, our uranium, and our oil,” reads the document.


In all appearances, the reasons for the removal of Mali President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012 were his long-standing political cooperation with M. Qaddafi, his political sympathy for the Celestial Empire, and insufficient attention paid to combatting Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Today many experts agree that in recent years, the US has primarily focused on preventing their chief competitors, the Chinese, from penetrating North and West Africa. Indeed, during the Toure rule, Chinese investments played an ever increasing role in the national economy. Chinese companies have been developing national infrastructure, such as by building bridges and roads. Importantly, Chinese oil corporations are developing oil deposits and actively pursuing geological prospecting in the Nara commune. The key foreign policy allies of overthrown President Toure (a graduate of the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command College) were Libya and China. Moreover, Amadou Sanogo, the leader of the coup, received his military training in “special operations” in the United States. Captain Sanogo himself in every possible way has emphasized his affiliation with the American military. In 2003, he attended the Marines Corps training center in Virginia, and thereafter he has carried a chevron of the US Marine Corps on his shoulder.

One must point out that in recent years, US military expansion on the African continent has become more and more noticeable. Russian experts have already emphasized that the new struggle for Africa reared its head following the appearance of pirates along the Somali coastlines. The peak of piracy hit in 2006-2007, i.e. the beginning of the active realization of the Chinese economic program for African development. There are grounds to believe that piracy is being controlled and guided by a “firm hand”. In this context, one must underscore that the key opponents of adopting an international law against piracy are the United States and Great Britain, who have blocked initiatives put forward by other countries at the UN.

Obviously, the center of overseas activities by the Pentagon is shifting from Europe into the eastern and southern parts of the globe. Military bases are being established along the “line of instability” drawn from Africa via the Middle East, Caucasus, Central and South Asia to the Korean Peninsula. Global redeployment of the American military presence is underway under our very eyes. The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in October 2008 and symbolizes the US ambitions to bolster its military presence on the African continent. AFRICOM’s area of responsibility covers 53 African nations.

So far, the US and France remain the two largest players on the African pitch. Their relations in the African context even resemble an increasing rivalry. This has been most evident in their ambitions to ensure access to African oil resources for their own major national companies (see, for example, competition between French Elf Aquitaine and American Occidental Petroleum in the Congo, between British-Dutch Shell and Elf Aquitaine in Gabon, and frictions between American and French oil companies in Angola).

There are obvious conceptual differences in legitimizing their presence in Africa. The American political rhetoric has focused on assistance in implementing democratic and market reforms, while France, trying to retain its influence in Francophone countries, is ready to meet loyal leaders half-way.

New Players on the African Pitch

The penetration of Western capital is related to one-sided benefits of MNCs exploiting the natural resource wealth of African countries, and very often in the form of military and political aggression against those countries, bribery, cultivation of sponsored political regimes.

Recently, confrontation between the United States and France on the one side and China and India on the other has come to the surface in Africa. Naturally, in their push for the development of African markets, neither India nor China have ever resorted to conflict or even saber-rattling. In this context, their penetration into African countries can be only figuratively interpreted as “neo-colonialism”. At the same time, the threat of Chinese economic intervention is already being viewed by certain African politicians as threatening. As Dr. Guy Scott, Vice President of Zambia, eloquently put it, people say, the whites were bad, the Indians were even worse, but the worst of all are the Chinese.

In the second half of the 20th century, Chinese cooperation with African governments was concentrated in the military and political spheres, pitched as a joint struggle against imperialism. But by the mid-1990s, the focus of attention moved towards economic cooperation: the PRC trade turnover with the African states reached four billion USD, though this amounted to less than 1.5% of the total Chinese foreign trade.

Later in the 1990s, China began to work out a plan of cooperation with African states. By the beginning of 2008, total turnover between China and all of Africa reached 108 billion USD. In 2009, China became the second largest world player (after Europe) in terms of volume of trade with Africa. Over the past five years, the Chinese-African trade volume has increased by 30% per annum. As early as 2000-2003, China wrote off (completely or partially) debts of more than 30 African countries worth more than 1.5 billion USD.

In the spring of 2007, China embarked on the implementation of the large project of establishing “special economic zones” in Africa. In this case, China is applying its own successful knowhow, having in established such zones in its own country in the 1980s and 1990s. The first special zone is under construction in the Copper Belt in Zambia, the second – on the island of Mauritius, designed as a PRC trade center to secure preferential access to trade structures of East and South African countries for Chinese businessmen. Mauritius will help facilitate wider Chinese access to the Indian Ocean and South-East Asian markets. Supposedly, the third zone will be established in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam, to be used as a shipping center. China has also planned to establish two special zones in Western Africa, but the right to host them has been contested by Liberia, Nigeria and the Cape Verde Islands.

In November 2009, Beijing hosted a summit attended by the leaders of 48 African nations. Addressing the summit, Chinese leader Hu Jintao criticized the policy of Western countries in Africa and pledged to increase Chinese assistance to Africa by twofold. He redeemed his promise: a multibillion dollar investment fund for Africa was established. Major investment and credits were made and granted to specific African countries. For instance, having received a two billion dollar loan from China, Angola lost interest in IMF credit, which came with many strings attached.

China is fighting not only for African mineral resources, but for its underdeveloped end-user market. As Chinese corporations readily make long-term investments into African economies, this presence provides a tangible advantage to these companies over their Western competitors trying to make a fast buck. The Chinese government also offers credits to African governments in exchange for access to the development of mineral resources. During the first phase of Chinese penetration into national economies, Africans are not at all involved into mining operations: all equipment and staff are brought from the Celestial Empire. The output is then shipped to China for processing. During the second phase, Chinese private companies come into the country and engage in retail trade and provision of services. Africans willingly buy Chinese goods because they are considerably cheaper than their European equivalents. Government agencies in Africa are more and more purchasing Chinese equipment and technologies. However, these purchases only have an insignificant impact on the economic development of African states. Eventually, Chinese loans are used to buy Chinese goods, thus, stimulating development of the Chinese economy instead of African economies.

vIndia has been penetrating African markets in a softer and more discreet manner. Experts indicate that this country has a pronounced advantage: a common colonial past, which allows speaking literally one and the same language, i.e. English. Thus, the Indians are far closer to the Africans than the Chinese, both geographically and linguistically. A study undertaken by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry pointed out five primary fields of Indian-African economic cooperation: pharmaceuticals and public health, information technologies, development of water resources, food industry technologies and education.

In April 2008, New Delhi hosted the first India-Africa Forum Summit which adopted the Africa-India Framework for Cooperation and the Delhi Declaration. These documents endorsed a plan for bolstering trade, economic coordination and partner relations in the 21st century. This step dramatically intensified Indian cooperation with African countries: in 2010, the volume of mutual trade turnover reached 50 billion USD.

Later in May 2011, at the second Africa-India government conference, the Indian Prime Minister declared that India intended to invest 5 billion USD in Africa. By the year 2015, investments by New Delhi should reach 70 billion USD. In addition, universities in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai have reserved 22 thousand places for African students. Another ten thousand students will study in the framework of a special project of the India-Africa Virtual University. Lastly, 700 million USD will be allocated to educational programs located in Africa itself.

Thus, one must treat the expansion of various countries into Africa differentially. Almost always the penetration of Western capital is related to one-sided benefits of MNCs exploiting the natural resource wealth of African countries, and very often in the form of military and political aggression (openly or in a latent form) against those countries, bribery, cultivation of sponsored political regimes, etc. Undoubtedly, these activities should be qualified as neo-colonialism progressing, or regressing, to be more precise, toward classical open colonialism. The economic breakthroughs of China and India onto the African continent can be viewed as neo-colonial interference into the economies of recipient countries, but to a lesser degree. However, even equal economic cooperation, granting of loans, and sometimes even gratuitous aid to African countries fail to produce positive results because of extremely inefficient management in Africa.

Deficit of Statehood on the Dark Continent

Why have young African states failed to become immune to neo-colonialism? Why have they proved so incapable of independent economic development?


Regrettably, having gained independence early in the 1960s, African states were unable to establish efficient statehood because of many reasons: an extremely low level of development of productive forces, extensively agrarian-based economies, poverty, the destructive activity of special services of developed nations and, essentially, a lack of political tradition and political culture. Tribalism, congeneric, and cultural and language identity were the only refuges for an individual within this political vacuum or under the ultimate authority of a culturally or confessionally alien elite. This situation becomes inevitable when the state fails either to protect or to ensure his/her vital interests. Under these circumstances, political processes are just fights between elites utilizing their tribal clienteles for the access to power and resources. The current state of affairs is further aggravated by the religious diversity of the population, different lifestyles and occupations, territorial claims and uneven control over natural resources by various groups, often identified by their socio-linguistic attributes.

More often than not, the government becomes an instrument to safeguard the interests (mostly the property interests) of the elite of the victorious group and to discriminate against the defeated. In turn, political systems are built not on the community of socio-professional or class interests, but on the basis of “natural kinship”, in today’s environment – on the illusory consanguinity. Very frequently political parties stem from this tribalism. Corruption, kleptocracy, tribalism and nepotism are eating away African countries like corrosion. The implication is bellum omnium contra omnes (Hobbes).

For over half a century, Africa has suffered more than 20 full-scale civil wars, more than 100 military coups, and 11 registered cases of genocide and mass political terror. During the period of independence, about 10 million human lives have been lost. Only 18 out of a total of 50 countries have avoided military dictatorships. For at least half of their time as independent entities, other countries have been ruled by military juntas. The Machiavellian paradigm of “divide and rule” has become a power tool of the neo-colonialists.

Inevitability of Repeat Colonization

Under the current circumstances, the majority of African states have been unable to confront neo-colonialism in all its hypostases, though paradoxical as it may seem, they are still interested in the presence of foreign capital in their economies.

The African population has increased by 24 million people annually, now reaching one billion. If this growth rate persists, by the year 2050, the number of the Africans will double. Though in North Africa, the birth rate has been partially reduced, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the birth rate still remains very high – 5.3 children per woman. Because agriculture is essential to African countries, such a fertility rate is fraught with humanitarian disaster. Reportedly, in September 2010, the number of Africans suffering from chronic hunger (south of the Sahara Desert) totaled 239 million people. Food shortages chronically hit 23 African countries. In 2011, the most vicious humanitarian disaster blazed East Africa, where famine hit about 12 million people in Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Eritrea. According to UNICEF, about two million children suffered from hunger, with 500 thousand of them in life-threatening condition.

Those deadly statistics show that under the current circumstances, the majority of African states have been unable to confront neo-colonialism in all its hypostases, though paradoxical as it may seem, they are still interested in the presence of foreign capital in their economies.

Even openly discriminatory investments in mining industries provide for new jobs for many Africans, who are prepared to work in difficult climatic conditions for extremely low pay (one exception are the Chinese). Besides, major companies are now being forced to invest in the social infrastructure needed for the regular operation of mining enterprises (training centers, medical care institutions, etc.).

However, the situation can only be radically changed through massive investments into the manufacturing sector, agriculture and agricultural processing, high technology sectors and the educational sphere.

In time, the collision of interests of the East and the West on the Dark Continent will be fraught with new misfortunes for Africans, The continent might become an enormous theater of war.

In order to convert major companies from solely extractors of raw materials into processors and manufacturers of finished products, governments have to guarantee the integrity of their property. In other words, political stability is the ultimate requirement. Political stability though can only be ensured when politics in the recipient countries are under the full control of the armed forces of donor countries. This would imply an actual restoration of the classical model of colonial rule. With little doubt, the military contingents stationed in African countries might be largely manned with locally recruited servicemen. Thus, the armies of colonial powers could gradually merge with the locals of the re-colonized territories.

Naturally, this is not the most optimistic scenario. But only through this type of intervention will wild and predatory neo-colonialism focused on draining resources from the African continent give way to a more civilized colonialism where investors would be forced to spend a certain share of their profits on the development of processing industry, infrastructure, and social programs.

In time, the collision of interests of the East and the West on the Dark Continent will be fraught with new misfortunes for Africans, The continent might become an enormous theater of war. While in the short run, this might play out through domestic collisions of puppet elites and counter-elites corrupted by one or the other side (recall the developments in Cote d’Ivoire or Mali), in the foreseeable future the confrontation of the United States and China might result in open military aggression against African countries refusing to yield to the outside dictates. One frightening presages of this scenario are the recent developments in Libya.

1. Fituni L.L. Africa. Resource Wars of the 21st Century. Moscow, 2012. P.5.

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